This week the Nordic startup community gathered in Voss, Norway for Startup Extreme. Innovation Lab Asia met with Sami Jääskeläinen, Director of Nordic Innovation House Singapore. Here’s what unfolded.
Whenever a new index is published, be it for “Innovation” or “Ease of Doing Business”, Singapore always seems to be topping the list. In 2017, the exhaustive Startup Genome Report, which ranks global startup ecosystems, even wrote that Singapore had overtaken Silicon Valley as the number one location for startup talent. And with good reason. As a major financial hub and a premier gateway to Southeast Asia, Singapore attracts top entrepreneurs from around the globe. Last year, in September 2018, Singapore became the first Asian location for the Nordic Innovation House.
What is the Nordic Innovation House?
The main purpose of The Nordic Innovation House is to provide a soft landing-spot for Nordic entrepreneurs. Sami elaborates:
“Nordic countries had been doing activities individually, such as organizing delegations to come to Singapore and do business matching and meet investors. Under the Nordic Innovation House, for the first time we can start doing all this together and have a bigger impact, since we have a bigger pool of startups and more Nordic solutions to showcase in Singapore.”
“There have always been proactive individuals who go to Singapore by themselves and connect with the ecosystem, but that is a long and painful journey. The value we are bringing is that we can find the right players and they will have a Nordic community supporting them who can share insights about the journey.”
What they provide
The house does activities ranging from connecting with local ecosystem players to hands on workshops and mentoring, and even has an investor in residence to assist with fundraising.
Their activities are mainly focused on companies in their first 6 months to a year of landing in Singapore, where the Nordic Innovation House can help companies to connect with local partners, understand the market, and even raise investment, through their own extensive local network.
For example, they collaborate heavily with Antler, a reputed accelerator with a branch in Sweden, where they share a co-working space and Antler’s large network of investors and mentors, and the local government, for example on the Entrepass, which speeds up the process for work permits for entrepreneurs.
As one of the most expensive places in the world, Singapore is an extremely costly location for any company, let alone startups, to land. So why go?
For starters, Singapore is one of the world’s leading hubs for VC. Companies from all over the world specifically land in Singapore to raise a venture round. With 59% of all Southeast Asian startup investments go through Singapore, companies looking to access the Southeast Asian market can raise the amount of money necessary to rapidly scale into the region.
“Many companies,” Sami points out, “land in Singapore to set up a regional headquarters for fundraising, while their main teams remain in home markets. From an investor point of view, it is important that you are incorporated there, as it is considered a safer environment where your company will comply by local laws.”
By extension, Singapore is also considered a hub to reach the 650 million people in the markets in Southeast Asia.
In terms of Nordic activity, Singapore is a hub of international fintech, and Nordic fintech ecosystem has long been looking towards the region. The Copenhagen Fintech Lab, for example, has many cooperations with accelerators and government agencies in Singapore.
The Nordic Innovation House has seen a number of success stories since its inception, such as Meniga, from Iceland, who after participating in a fintech festival have found local partners and are opening and office in Singapore, and Strawbees, a Swedish ed-tech company that has made a deal with Saturday Kids, a large Singapore coding school.
Sami emphasizes that it’s important that when you come to Singapore, you have done your homework, and reached the decision strategically. Once your company finds that Southeast Asia fits your business strategy, the house can help you along your journey into the region.
Companies can coast on strong Nordic reputation
However, there are other reasons to consider Singapore as well.
“Singapore has opportunities for everybody – there are over 7000 regional headquarters and close to 50 corporate innovation labs from various industries. It’s more than just fintech.”
“But most importantly, the Nordics have a very good reputation in Singapore.”
According to Sami, it is never a problem to fill a room with interested investors if there are Nordic solutions on display. Sami sites Meniga, from Iceland, and Strawbees, from Finland, who have exhibited at events in Singapore and found local partners.
Even though Singapore is mostly known for Fintech, from the Nordic point of view, entry into Singapore is equally strong in verticals the Nordics are strong in – medtech, healthtech, smart cities, and energy. The region is keen to find solutions within Nordic strongholds like sustainability, healthtech, and cleantech, where the Nordic reputation as forerunners in the field can pay off.
“We can coast on the reputation of the Nordics as so there is so much interest when it comes to Nordic strongholds”, says Sami.
The Nordic Innovation House Singapore will soon be running programs focused on healthtech and circular energy. Interested startups can reach them on their website.